The Parish As the Light of Mercy In Our Community
The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-1, 16 December 2016
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8//John 5:33-36

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It is this time of the year again when churches are overflowing with people for our nine-day novena to Christmas we interchangeably refer to as Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo. Strictly or properly speaking, the Mass at night is Simbang Gabi while this one we are having every December 16 is the Misa de Gallo, from the Spanish “Mass of the rooster” that crows at about this time. There is no big deal really with how call this, whether Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo but on this Year of the Parish as we prepare for the 500th year of Christianization of our nation in 2021, perhaps it is about time that we clarify and deepen the meaning of this Christmas novena we have exported back to Europe and to every country there are OFW’s.

Allow me to share with you a recent experience I have had in my parish where I have been a pastor since 2011.

Next to the Holy Eucharist, it is always with the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick that I truly and deeply experience God’s mercy and love. And with conviction, I tell you, God is so in love with us especially at the point of our death that He would do everything to save every single soul especially the most sinful ones. A few weeks ago during my day off with my sister and niece, I had left my cellphone at home, retrieving it only upon our return later that night. Checking for messages, I found a request for a sick call for a parishioner so notorious that in my five years in our parish, I have not heard any good things about him. Neighbors and even relatives complain about him. As I texted back to inform the family I was coming, deep inside me I felt he won’t die yet. Most likely he would suffer longer (mea culpa) for his many sins that I was not worried at all with the heavy traffic that night. Everything changed when I got into the room of the sick: gone was his towering and robust bearing as he laid in bed in coma with tubes in his mouth and arm while his six-foot body frame swelling all over in pale yellow. I performed all the rites for the dying but I must confess with you that while doing it, deep inside me I was begging God for mercy and forgiveness for me as I found it so difficult to say the prayers because… I knew how sinful he had been! Sorry po pero napakasama po niya talaga that before leaving at almost 11PM I had to counsel his adopted son who had so much pains from him since childhood.

Early the following morning on my way to my radio program, I was told the patient died at midnight after I had left. What did I feel? I felt God hugging me, telling me how much He really loves us all, even the most sinful ones. How I wanted to shout that “God is merciful indeed!” Napaka-buti po ng Diyos. He can forgive every sin, even the most serious ones that He would never allow us to go to hell, doing everything just to save us before dying like with that man I have anointed. How blessed are we all that when we die, our judge is Jesus Christ and not anyone on earth, neither our relatives nor friends, not even priests because nobody might make it to heaven with our strict standards unlike God.

This is one of the meanings of our Simbang Gabi: that in the darkness of the night of our sinfulness and miseries, God sent us His only Son Jesus Christ to save us, to forgive us from our sins (cf. Jn.3:16). He is the light who pierces the great darkness above us, even little by little as we find our way into the church early this morning. Yes, God never gives up on us, always believing in our goodness and value as persons that it must pain Him so much with what we are doing right now like the extra-judicial killings going on as well as the move to reinstate capital punishment in the country. There is always hope in everyone, even the most sinful sinners that we have to always give that chance for them to change. It is not for us to decide whether they should live or die but only God.

On this first day of our Christmas novena, the Lord is inviting us to be like St. John the Baptist, “a burning and shining lamp” who would point to Him as the true light of the world “accomplishing the works of the Father” (Jn.5:35,36) which is mercy for us sinners. No one is excluded in the love and mercy of God as He promised Isaiah in the first reading, “them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Is. 56:7) This wonderful work of God is continued daily and into the darkness of the night through the parishes scattered all over the world, big and small like ours. And yes, with you our flock, we your pastors despite our many sins and weaknesses are here to ensure always that light of Christ would always be burning no matter how long and dark is the night by always standing for what is good and just. We would always be misunderstood by many, even maligned and cursed by the more popular and powerful people but like St. John the Baptist, we have to keep that light of Christ burning even with our name and honor and very lives.

May those lights that decorate our church building outside that have guided you from the darkness earlier and brought you here, continue to burn most of all in our hearts and in our lives of love and mercy especially to the poor and the sinful, the lost and rejected. In a few minutes we shall be going home or going to our places of work as darkness starts to fade and the sun begins to spread its light all over. May we see the face of Jesus in everyone we meet, sharing His love and mercy with one another especially those in our parish and family. God bless!
Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

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